This summer will mark the homestretch of the Bennett Elementary rebuild project.
“I’m looking forward to collaborating with my colleagues in our grade level pods and using our space outside of the classroom for small groups,” Bennett Teacher Stephanie Ottaway, who was a part of the planning committee for the new building, said about moving into the new school this fall. “The new space will also offer a great gathering space for all our community events.”
The new building will be approximately 90,000 square feet and three stories. It will feature a large entry courtyard, central open area with a staircase that has a double step which can serve as a gathering place and seating for an entire class, a second floor library with exposed beams, as well as a green roof and a raised wood deck. The building will also feature an abundance of both high and low windows, skylights, small pop-out windows, and window seats in the classrooms, bringing natural light into the building.
“It has a lot of character,” Project Manager Jim O’Malley of the district’s Capital Construction department said. “It’s going to be a beautiful building.”
Bennett students and staff have been at the Bellewood location this year while demolition and construction of Bennett have taken place.
“The new building will meet our physical needs as well as be an inspiration,” Principal David Staight said. “It will become an expression of our learning community and represent what we find most important: the future of our children.”
At present the building envelope is sealed and finishing work on the exterior and interior is ongoing, in addition to site work like the parking lots and curbs.
Work on the exterior siding is progressing with the final metal siding being applied to the north side of the building first and moving south. O’Malley also reported that the permanent roof is over 90 percent finished.
The interior work is divided into four different areas: administration, the first and second floor classroom wings, the gym, and the upper classroom wing. The different trades are currently working through the building on electrical, mechanical, plumbing, sheet rock, paint, and carpentry, to name a few.
From planning and design to demolition and construction, the Bennett project posed an interesting and at times complicated challenge for the construction team due to natural features of the property the school sits on.
Bennett opened in 1970 as part of the Lake Washington School District and was annexed into Bellevue in 1976. O’Malley explained that the history of the property includes being home to a farm, and its natural history includes at one time being covered by Lake Sammamish. Due to glacial movement and landslides over time the lake level decreased significantly. As it was once the lake bottom, the soils are high in organic material and are largely loose clay. As such, the new school was built on over 215 auger cast piles and an elaborate maze of footing systems, providing a solid foundation for the building.
The wettest winter on record in the greater Seattle area also complicated matters, saturating the soil.
“With the extra rain, the soils just fell apart,” O’Malley said. “You can cement treat the soils – you lay out powdered cement and till it into the soil and the moisture sets the concrete to make the soil like concrete. That was the plan, but once you get that much rain, the soil is unusable. We had to export all the existing soils and we didn’t anticipate that.”
As the site work progressed, the team found that even more dirt had to be removed when an old landside in the hill was reactivated as they began building a retaining wall.
“We reactivated a landslide that was there when that glacial push came through,” O’Malley said. “Our soils engineer was just giddy: How often do you get to see that? It’s been interesting to see it play out.”
The result was trucking more dirt from the site and bringing in crushed rock, stabilizing the hillside.
With the extra site work behind them, O’Malley says that the project has been making rapid progress thanks to the contractor, Edifice Construction, and the hard work of the various teams and trades.
“There are a ton of people on site,” O’Malley said. “A lot is getting done.”
As the community looks to the future of Bennett it is also remembering the school’s past and particularly its namesake in the new building. Richard Bennett grew up on the property, and later became an artist, illustrating over 200 children’s books. Artwork by Bennett that was a part of the school was preserved during the demolition process and will be incorporated into the new school.
“I’m very excited to move into the new building and use all that the space has to offer,” Ottaway said.